Chapter IX. An Ingenious Scheme
 

The passengers, though somewhat surprised, generally showed their watches with a good grace. One old man produced a silver watch fifty years old.

"That watch belonged to my grandfather," he said. "You don't claim that, do you?"

"Wouldn't take it as a gift," said the loser crustily.

"You couldn't get it in exchange for yours!" retorted the owner.

Presently they came to Walter. If he had not attached the gold watch to his chain, instead of his old silver one, he would have been tempted to leave it in his pocket and produce the less valuable one. But he was saved from the temptation, as this would now have been impossible. Besides, had the gold watch been found on him afterward it would have looked very suspicious.

"Well, youngster," said the stout man, "show us your watch."

With a flushed face and an uneasy feeling Walter drew out the gold timepiece.

"Is that your watch?" he said.

"Yes!" almost shouted the stout passenger, fiercely. "So you are the thief?"

"No, sir," answered Walter, pale but firm. "I am not the thief."

"Where did you get it, then?"

"I bought it."

"You bought it? That's a likely story. "Why, it was taken from me this very afternoon."

"That may be, but I bought it, all the same."

The owner was about to protest, when the conductor said quietly: "Listen to the young fellow's explanation."

Walter proceeded:

"A man came to my seat and told me he wanted to raise enough money to get to Dakota. He offered me the watch for twenty-five dollars, though he said it cost him ninety six months ago."

"And you paid him twenty-five dollars?"

"No; I had no money to spare, but when he offered it for twenty, and told me I could more than get my money back either by pawning or selling it, I made up my mind to purchase, and did so."

"Where is this man?" asked the conductor.

"He said he was going into the smoking-car."

"That's a likely story," sneered the stout gentleman.

"Do you charge me with taking the watch?" demanded Walter hotly. "I have never left this car. Have you seen me before?"

"No; but you are probably a confederate of the man from whom you got it. But I am not sure if there was any such man."

"I will describe him," said Walter.

As he did so, the conductor said: "There was such a man on the train. He got off at the last station."

"I don't know anything about that," said the claimant; "but I'll trouble you, young man, for that watch."

"Will you return me the twenty dollars I gave for it?" asked Walter.

"Of course not. I don't propose to buy back my own watch."

An elderly gentleman who sat just behind Walter spoke up here.

"It is rather hard on the boy," he said. "I can confirm his story about the purchase of the watch. I heard the bargaining and saw the purchase-money paid."

"That makes no difference to me," said the claimant. "I've identified the watch and I want it."

Walter removed it from his chain and was about to hand it to the claimant, when a quiet-looking man, dressed in a drab suit, rose from a seat farther down the car and came forward. He was a small man, not over five feet five inches in height, and he would not have weighed over one hundred and twenty pounds, but there was a look of authority on his face and an accent of command in his voice.

"You needn't give up the watch, my boy," he said.

Walter drew back his hand and turned round in surprise. The claimant uttered an angry exclamation, and said testily: "By what right do you interfere?"

"The watch isn't yours," said the small man nonchalantly.

"It isn't, hey? Well, of all the impertinent--"

"Stop there, Jim Beckwith! You see I know you"--as the stout man turned pale and clutched at the side of the seat.

"Who are you?" he demanded hoarsely.

"Detective Green!"

The claimant lost all his braggadocio air, and stared at the detective with a terrified look.

"That isn't my name," he managed to ejaculate.

"Very likely not," said the detective calmly, "but it is one of your names. It is a very clever game that you and your confederate are playing. He sells the watch, and you demand it, claiming that it has been stolen from you. I was present when the watch was sold, and the reason I did not interfere was because I was waiting for the sequel. How many times have you played this game?"

"There's some mistake," gasped the other.

"Perhaps so, but I have some doubts whether you came by it honestly."

"I assure you it is my watch," cried the other, uneasily.

"How much did you pay for it, young man?" asked the detective.

"Twenty dollars."

"Very well, sir; give the boy twenty dollars, and I shall advise him to give the watch back to you, as it may be stolen property, which he would not like to have found in his possession."

"But that will be paying twenty dollars for my own property. It was not to me he paid the money."

"You will have to look to your confederate for that. I am not sure but I ought to make you give twenty-five dollars."

This hint led to the stout man's hastily producing two ten-dollar bills, which he tendered to Walter.

"It's an outrage," he said, "making a man pay for his own property!"

"Are you sure that your statements in regard to this man are true?" asked an important-looking individual on the opposite side of the car. "To my mind your interference is unwarrantable, not to say outrageous. Justice has been trampled upon."

The detective looked round sharply.

"Do you know the man?" he asked.

"No."

"Well, I do. I first made his acquaintance at Joliet prison, where he served a term of years for robbing a bank. Is that true or not, Jim Beckwith?"

The man known as Beckwith had already started to leave the car, but, although he heard the question, he didn't come back to answer it.

"I generally know what I'm about," continued the detective, pointedly, "as those who are unwise enough to criticise my actions find out, sooner or later."

The important gentleman did not reply, but covered his confusion by appearing to be absorbed in a daily paper, which he held up before his face.

"You let him off easy," said the gentleman in the rear seat. "You allowed him to take the watch. I was surprised at that."

"Yes; for, strange as it may seem, it was probably his, though the money with which he bought it may have been stolen. That watch has been probably sold a dozen times and recovered the same way. Were it a stolen watch, the risk would be too great. As it is I had no pretext for arresting him."

"Was it really a ninety-dollar watch?" asked Walter, with interest.

"No. I know something about watches, as I find the knowledge useful in my official capacity. The watch would be a fair bargain at forty-five dollars, but it is showy, and would readily be taken for one worth seventy-five or even ninety dollars."

"I shouldn't think the trick would pay," said the gentleman in the rear seat.

"Why not?"

"Twenty dollars isn't a large sum to be divided between two persons, especially when there's money to be paid for car fare."

"Sometimes the watch is sold for more--generally, I fancy--but the price was reduced because the purchaser was a boy. Besides, these men doubtless have other ways of making money. They are well-known confidence men. If I hadn't been on board the train our young friend would have lost his twenty dollars."

"It would have been a great loss to me," said Walter. "I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Green."

"Ah, you remember my name. Let me give you my card. Some time you may get into difficulty and want to consult me. Boys of your age are not a match for an experienced swindler."

He handed Walter a card bearing the name:

SILAS GREEN, 97 H Street.

Walter put it into his pocket with a polite expression of thanks.

Meanwhile, of course, the cars were steadily approaching Chicago. At length they entered the great Union Depot, and with the rest of the passengers Walter alighted carrying his valise in his hand.

A few feet in front of him walked Jim Beckwith, but Walter did not care to join him. He half turned, and as his glance fell on Walter he said, with a scowl: "If you ever meet me again you'll know me."

"Yes, I shall!" answered Walter, with emphasis.